Government and Regulations

VA Reveals Future of Choice Plan Before House Committee

New Veterans Choice Program seeks to broaden veterans’ access to health care services outside VA facilities and simplify access to private doctors.



On Wednesday, the VA submitted a plan that simplifies its network of private doctors to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The New Veterans Choice Program proposes the creation of a single system by combining 7 existing VA private health care programs. The plan also allows veterans who live far from a VA facility to visit private doctors or specialists at government expense.

Related: Sen. McCain Proposes Permanent Choice Program Legislation

“The success of the VA health care system over the next several years will depend in large part on VA’s ability to consolidate these 7 disparate methods into a single coordinated program that's easy for veterans and community providers to understand and buy into,” said House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla) during the oversight hearing, held November 18, 2015.

The VA is striving to simplify and streamline a currently disjointed system. For example, the new plan recommends creating a single set of rules that govern how veterans are referred to outside care and to which doctors. The agency also aims to simplify claims, billing, and reimbursement systems for doctors while also improving its medical record keeping.

Related: VA Relaxes Rules for Choice Program

“All of these programs have been layered on top of each other without someone saying, ‘How do we rationalize them?’” VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We want an integrated network. We want the very best providers connected with us. This is a big deal, and it will be a big improvement over what we have now.”

The proposed changes to Veterans Choice require Congressional approval and could prove costly. The VA estimates that redesigning the system would cost between $1.2 billion and $2.4 billion in each of the first 3 years. Adding access to emergency services and urgent care would add an additional $2 billion per year.

Related: Obama and McDonald Call on Congress to Give VA Flexibility

However, there could be cost savings in the future. The VA spent about $7 billion per year on outside medical care prior to implementing the current Veterans Choice Program. Officials estimate that annual costs would reach $6.5 billion if the program continues in its current form.

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